Fair income in Europe: How households and families, work organizations and country characteristics influence fairness perceptions of individual earnings and income inequality


The contemporary EU faces increasing inequality and a tense political situation, such as the rise of nationalism and declining trust in institutions. As the social cohesion of democratic nations heavily depends on the legitimation of inequalities, research into fairness perceptions with respect to individual earnings and income inequality is of utmost importance. I argue that it is not the objective individual earnings and income inequality but rather the subjective perception of these outcomes as fair or unfair which is most important for individual behavior and legitimacy of inequalities in a society.
These fairness perceptions are socially determined. This project therefore aims to analyze the influence of the social contexts (a) households and families, (b) work organizations, as well as (c) country characteristics of European nations on citizens' fairness perceptions of (i) individual earnings and (ii) income inequality. Thereby, the project fills theoretical and empirical gaps. So far, there are hardly any theoretical explanations on how these social contexts (a-c) affect fairness perceptions (i, ii). I argue that the social mechanisms of comparisons, rational interests and normative preferences link social contexts to fairness perceptions. Moreover, so far adequate data were missing that provide suitable empirical information about the relevance of social contexts on fairness perceptions (a-c). I will include a newly designed validized fairness module into the (a) Family Survey Dutch Population, (b) a German employee survey with linked employer-employee data and the (c) European Social Survey. This makes it possible to for first time test elaborated theoretical predictions about the determinants of fairness evaluations. Thus, the project is unique in its theoretical and empirical foundation in providing empirically testable explanations why people perceive individual earnings and income inequality as fair or unfair. This project contributes to the broader discussion about people’s perceptions of valorization and the legitimation of current inequalities.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. C.G. Sauer

Affiliated with

Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen, Maatschappijwetenschappen


01/01/2018 to 31/12/2020